Employee Retention

nonprofit staff teamwork imageLong-time readers of Resources, the MJA newsletter, may recall an article about employee turnover in the December 2004 issue.

The article spoke to why turnover is so expensive to your organization – in monetary as well as in less quantitative measurements. Now, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin – how to retain your development team.

This is not just for development personnel – these concepts can apply across the board:

* Involve everyone in high-level discussions. Let’s say you are not raising enough money for your annual operations, what should you as the executive director do?
1. Tell the department what is going to be done and expect them to follow through.

2. Offer opportunities for the staff to find workable solutions. They may not have the answers and/or you may not agree with all of their ideas, but having them involved with the decision will help the staff develop a real sense of ownership in the solutions. You have hired your staff, in part, based on their talents, skills and previous experience in other organizations – utilize these strengths as a resource.

* Establish manageable expectations. Development does not provide overnight solutions to any problems. In fact, it is the long-term focus of the development staff that will ensure the organization’s financial stability and potential growth. It can be frustrating when you know you need money now, but planning for the future with 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and 10-year plans will help you eliminate that pressure for the future and ensure your staff does not feel like unreasonable expectations are preventing success. Mutually agreeable goals are essential. An employee who feels they can be successful will often go the extra mile to ensure they are successful.

* Remember that it is sometimes necessary to step back in order to move forward. Your dreams of raising $2.5 million will be impossible if you do not have systems in place and enough appropriate staffing. Staff that feels they are fighting against insurmountable battles will get easily frustrated. Frustrated employees will gladly leave for the potential of success elsewhere. Offering brainstorming sessions to solve problems, growth opportunities including professional development and plans to alleviate the most stressful aspects of a job will help with retention.

* Provide reviews more than once a year. If your only review of an employee has monetary repercussions, there is no opportunity for one-on-one feedback that will benefit both parties. The looming dollar figure at the end of the conversation will be in the employees’ mind with every piece of constructive criticism. In addition, annual reviews do not provide opportunities for smaller, cumulative improvements in performance. This being said, if you only offer executives bi-annual reviews, you are stating that you are only interested in retaining high-level employees. One look at the back pages of any development-associated publication like The Chronicle of Philanthropy will show you the lists and lists and lists of nonprofits searching for qualified candidates at all levels. It is easier as well as more cost effective to grow from within and, in general, prevent turnover in the first place.

This is not an all-inclusive list, nor is it a cure-all. But it is a step to rethinking your strategy for success. Why don’t you share with us, and our thousands of readers, your best practices in terms of employee retention? We will publish your thought under your by-line in subsequent issues of Resources.